There were roughly 5.8 million cases of Alzheimer's disease in the US in 2020. This number is expected to nearly triple by 2060, projecting an estimated 14 million cases. Despite this staggering figure, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia remain incurable. Hence families of affected people seek different treatment approaches to ease symptoms and maintain the quality of life of their loved ones. One option that promises benefits is music therapy.
If you’re a family caregiver for a senior mom or dad diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, you might wonder how music therapy can treat a progressive disease. Read on to learn how it works and how you can apply it to help a loved one.
Music Therapy and Alzheimer’s
Humans have been perpetually connected with music and sounds. Music has been a key part of our everyday lives, from lullabies to funeral songs. We listen to music when we’re happy and listen to it more when we’re sad. Music therapy has come in handy whether we feel positive or negative about certain life situations.
But what’s the connection between music therapy and Alzheimer’s? How can it help in treatment?
Findings indicated that music could enhance autobiographical recall by promoting positive emotional memories. In one study, researchers discovered that 12 patients with mild Alzheimer’s who listened to music remembered more autobiographical details about life events. Their autobiographical memory improved when they listened to the songs they chose.
Aside from evoking memories, music can also bring pleasure and joy to those with cognitive impairment. Although music therapy is not a cure for psychological symptoms like depression, it can offer short-term benefits by improving mood and encouraging self-expression and connection. It’s a therapeutic strategy to help elevate the mood of 40% to 50% of Alzheimer’s patients experiencing depression.
Apart from this, here are some other ways that music therapy can be an advantage to people affected with Alzheimer’s:
1. It Inspires Communication.
Do you find talking with someone with Alzheimer’s tricky? When conversations are a challenge, try listening to music together.
Music is a universal form of expression. You can build a connection with your loved one by listening to good tracks together. Have a bonding session by listening to new music genres or arias you think they will like. Even if your senior mom or dad can’t remember their favorite song, playing it may help them remember the positive feelings they once had when they first heard it.2. It Encourages Movement.
Upbeat songs can evoke a physical response from the body. Your loved one may hum, sing, clap, and tap their feet to the beat. This is an excellent form of therapy that can strengthen motor functions.
Search online or ask friends what type of upbeat songs were popular during your mom or dad’s time. Perhaps they love to dance to the tune of Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley’s hit songs.3. It Reduces Stress Levels.
Seniors with memory impairment often feel frustrated and restless. Music is a safe and fun coping mechanism to promote calmness and relaxation. It can also bring a sense of familiarity, like classic songs, which can lower stress levels.
Research findings indicate that listening to music with 60 beats per minute synchronizes the brain to the beat, causing alpha brainwaves, which are the brainwaves present when one is conscious and relaxed.
Incorporating Music into Alzheimer’s and Dementia Caregiving
Here are some tips for family caregivers if you want to add music therapy into your caregiving strategy:
1. Choose songs from their time.
You may want to introduce your loved one to the latest trendy songs, but they may not have any memory link to them. Instead, choose tunes from their time. Play their favorite childhood songs or hit tracks that they enjoy listening to.
In addition, consider what their history with music is. They may have played an instrument, like a guitar, piano, or violin, when they were younger. Listening to light classical music by Mozart, Vivaldi, or Beethoven might be their cup of tea.2. Watch out for verbal and non-verbal cues.
As you play some music, pay attention to their response. This includes their facial expression, body language, and spoken words. Notice if they look tense or at ease while listening to certain songs. If they look happy and relaxed, play those songs often. If it’s otherwise, change your tracklist.
Observe communication cues, so you’ll know if they react favorably or negatively to music therapy. Be also careful that you don’t overstimulate them with music as it can make them feel agitated and distressed.3. Choose the right music style.
If you want a calm and lighthearted environment as your loved one goes through their morning routine, pick the appropriate music style. The best choices usually include smooth jazz, country, or classical and ambient. Alternatively, if you want to boost their mood, go for a catchy, fast-paced playlist. Play songs with soft and soothing tunes at night to set the right mood for sleep.
Family caregivers benefit from music therapy, too.
Whether you’re feeling down and sad, anxious, stressed, or happy, listening to music is one of the healthy hobbies you can do any time and benefit from. You can listen to music to enhance your mood or as a healthy distraction from a stressful day. There’s also healing music to lower stress levels and cultivate quietness.
Adding Music Therapy to Enhance Treatment
Music is an excellent, research-backed tool that can help enhance the quality of life of people with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive disorders. It offers a new way for a senior loved one to interact with you and the. While it has many advantages, it should only be used as an additional component to the treatment program, not as a replacement for therapy and medications. Even if music therapy is generally safe, consult your doctor and ask if it’s okay to implement it.
Most assisted living communities offer memory support services that include music therapy. But if your senior parent is aging at home, look up the American Music Therapy Association. It’s a nonprofit organization with thousands of music therapists and other foundations offering information about music therapy studies. It also provides a comprehensive list of credentialed music therapists that you can enlist for help.
Syed has years of experience dealing with people, understanding their needs, and helping them find solutions to their problems.
As a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA), Certified Dementia Practitioner (CDP), Certified Montessori Dementia Care Professional (CMDCP), Syed is committed to working closely with Senior and their family knowing what is it like for individuals facing a challenging time, at times groping in dark trying to figure what is the appropriate next step or care level for their unique situation.
Syed and Senex Memory Advisors are fully committed to working closely with families in creating a personalized, step-by-step process memory care plan at zero cost.